Does It Really Matter If the Group Leader* Is a Believer?

File this under things that make you go hmmm.  Admittedly, you might be filing it under things that make you think heretic…but I want you to seriously consider this question.  I think it’s a valid question.  And I think it’s a good one.

Does it really matter if the group leader* is a believer?

What do you think?  Where do you stand?  You might be absolutely, 100% certain and without a doubt that the group leader must be a believer.  But I just want you to have an open mind for a few minutes.

Here’s where I land on this one:

First, for me it definitely primarily depends on two factors:

  • Who is in the group and how did they get there?  If someone picks up a HOST kit and invites their own friends to join them, I don’t have a problem if they are not yet a believer.  After all, I’ve chosen a study that is on a topic I want them to be exposed to, why wouldn’t I want their friends to have to wrestle with the topic?  On the other hand, if someone signs up to host a group and needs my help filling their group, I have no trouble requiring them to fill out a questionnaire (that asks about their faith development), attend an orientation, and meet with a coach (where we can discern further).  See also, Leader Qualifications: Raising the Bar, Lowering the Bar, or Open Bar?
  • Is the group open to new members and how will they find it?  If the group is an invitation only group and not advertised on our small group finder, I don’t have a problem.  I’m actually glad that the current members (who in most cases are a step or two behind the host spiritually) care enough about their friends to invite them.  Also, I’ve worked hard to provide a study that will guide the group (leader and members) toward a decision or next step.  On the other hand, if the host tells me that they need help filling their group, I have no trouble requiring them to fill out a questionnaire (that asks about their faith development), attend an orientation, and meet with a coach (where we can discern further).
  • Note: In my mind, both of these factors invalidate concerns about the influence a leader has on their members.  See also, Small Group Ministry Myth #4: High Leader Entry Requirements Ensure Safety of the Flock.

Second, widening the net to include more potential leaders allows our campaign to reach more unconnected people.

  • If I allow anyone who has a few friends to pick up the study and do it with their friends, I’ve just increased the number of people who will be exposed to the study.
  • If I choose the right topic and allow anyone to start their own group, there is a high probability that people I will never meet will connect.
  • Note: If you’re doing an off-the-shelf study (something that can be purchased online or at a bookstore), you can’t control this anyway!  Right?

Third, I can set up my process to make it easy to begin and nearly automatic for new leaders to step into our leadership pathway.

  • I can gather contact information when they pick up the host kit.
  • A coach can contact them to establish a regular touch.
  • I can provide a coaching email every week.
  • I can invite them to attend a host rally during the campaign (where they’ll connect with a community of leaders) and invite them to take a next step (Saddleback regularly invites hosts to make a decision for Christ and be baptized).  See also, Steve Gladen on the Power of  HOST Gatherings.

Where do I stand?  I want to make it easy to begin and nearly automatic to continue.  Where do you stand?  And why?

Where do you stand?  Why?  Have a question?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

*Teacher, Leader, Shepherd, Host: What’s in a Name?

5 Simple Small Group Ministry Moves with Exponential Payoffs

Sometimes we know we need to make changes in our strategy, but we remain stuck because we’re focusing on the wrong variable.

Here are 5 simple small group ministry moves with exponential payoffs:

  1. Clarify and simplify your “leader” requirements.  What is in your current “leader” requirements that might be keeping the very first step into “leadership” from happening?  For example, you may want small group leaders to be members, to complete new leader training, and to be connected to a coach.  Is there are first step into leadership that can happen without membership?  Perhaps a preliminary category will enable a much larger number of first steps into leadership (like the person who picks of a grab-and-go pack and invites their own friends to join).  See also, Leader Requirements: Raising the Bar, Lowering the Bar, or Open Bar? and Customized Leader Requirements and Benefits
  2. Focus on starting new groups.  Whenever you have a choice, start new groups rather than adding new members to existing groups.  This may seem counterintuitive, but new groups have a much better chance of sticking than a new member added to an existing group.  Groups begin to form an almost impermeable membrane after as little as 12 to 18 meetings.  Who can break through an almost impermeable membrane?  Close friends of existing group members, extreme extroverts, and socially unaware people who have trouble picking up the signals other group members are giving off.  On the other hand, new groups offer everyone the best opportunity to connect on common ground.  See also, Top 5 Keys to Starting New Groups. Lots of New Groups and Critical Decision: Add Members to Existing Groups vs Starting New Groups?
  3. Add additional connecting opportunities to your annual calendar.  Every strategically timed connecting opportunity allows another group of unconnected people to take a first step.  If you’re currently offering a once-a-year emphasis (church-wide campaign, small group connection or fair, Group Link, etc.), consider adding an additional opportunity or two at other strategic times.  Make sure you’re offering an assortment of strategies.  Remember, what works well for a particular kind of fish will not necessarily work on other kinds of fish!  See also, 5 Keys to Launching Groups Year Round.
  4. Recruit “launch-phase” coaches to help new group leaders for 8 to 10 weeks.  All you’re looking for are small group leaders who could walk alongside a brand new leader for their first 6 week study.  Connect by phone or in person for a check-in.  Focus on a simple set of four key questions.  It is a short-term commitment with a definite payoff since one of the two most important ingredients for new groups that continue is a “coach” who can help smooth out trouble spots in the first six weeks.  See also, Recruiting Additional Coaches and Imagine If Your Coaching Structure Looked Like This.
  5. Choose a great launching study and a great follow up study before your new groups begin.  So simple and so often overlooked.  The connective tissue in most new groups is only occasionally strong enough to withstand the pressure of choosing a next study.  Don’t take that chance!  Offer a next study that is similar to the launching study in form (for example, if the first study was a DVD-driven, 6 weeks long, required no homework and was easy to lead…the follow-up study should be very similar).  See also, Now Is the Time to Think About What’s Next.

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Top 10 Posts of April, 2014

Miss a day?  Here are my 10 most popular articles of April, 2014.  It’s a good mix, I think, with four posts from April and several very popular articles from the archives.

  1. How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection (May, 2008)
  2. 5 Keys to Getting Everyone to Join a Group (April, 2014)
  3. Small Group Ministry Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu (January, 2014)
  4. Skill Training: Learning How to Pray Together (April, 2009)
  5. Top 5 Keys to Starting New Groups. Lots of New Groups. (July, 2013)
  6. 5 Small Group Ministry Myths That Need Busting (April, 2014)
  7. Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups (August, 2010)
  8. 5 Keys to Building a Small Group Ministry at the Corner of Belonging and Becoming (April, 2014)
  9. Top 10 Reasons Taking the Summer Off Is a Bad Idea (June, 2010)
  10. The First 7 Questions I Ask When Evaluating a Small Group Ministry (April, 2014)

Don’t Miss This Training Video: Your Group Might Be Too Big

Looking for a video to use for leader training?  Here’s one that might work as you introduce certain topics:

Can’t see the video? You can watch it right here.

Is There a “Design Limit” Ceiling on Your Small Group Ministry?

Have you ever stopped to consider that there may be a design limit ceiling on your small group ministry?  Are you familiar with the term?  Think of a design limit as the maximum or optimum possibility of your system.

Four examples of design limits that are ceilings for small group ministries:

Example #1: You are committed to providing personal care for your small group leaders but you are trying to do it yourself.  A design limit is the built-in reality that everyone needs to be cared for by someone but no one can take care of more than about 10.  As you attempt to push past the design limit, stress fractures will eventually develop.  Breaking through the barrier of the design limit will require a different strategy for caring for leaders.   See also, Span of Care and How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure.

Example #2: You have been using Free Market/Semester system and for the first two years it has worked well.  Now entering your third year, keeping up with the catalog and recruiting enough leaders in advance to replace those who have opted to “take a break” is becoming more challenging every semester.  A design limit is the built-in reality of the administrative work and the fact that it is keeping you from investing in leaders and coaches.  Breaking through the barrier of the design limit will require a different strategy for launching new groups.  See also, An Analysis of the Free Market Small Group System.

Example #3: You have set high entry requirements for group leaders (i.e., must be a member, must be a “tithing” member, must attend the 8 week new leader bootcamp, etc.) and are having difficulty finding enough leaders to connect the number of adults who want to join a group.  A design limit is the built-in reality that the number of tithing members who will invest 8 weeks in the 8 week new leader bootcamp is a ceiling on the number of groups you can launch.  Breaking through the barrier of the design limi will require a different strategy for recruiting new leaders.  See also, Small Group Ministry Myth #4: High Leader Entry Requirements Ensure Safety in the Flock.

Example #4: You have placed high emphasis on every small group having an apprentice with the value that heathy groups grow and birth a new group every 12 to 18 months.  A design limit is the built-in reality that less than 50% of groups will birth a new group.  Breaking through the barrier of the design limit will require a different strategy to launch new groups.  See also, 5 Keys to Launching New Groups. Lots of New Groups.

What are the design limits in your small group ministry system or strategy?

Doing the work of identifying the design limits that are affecting your small group ministry is very important.  Turning a blind eye to design limits isn’t a winning strategy.  Remember, the well-worn path never arrives at a new destination.

How can you identify the design limits of your system?

If you’ve been along for very long you know that I am a big fan of great questions.  I got two questions that I’ve found very helpful from Gary Hamel’s The Future of Management (a great read).

  1. What 21st-century challenges are testing the design limits of our discipleship strategy?
  2. What are the limitations of our model that have failed to keep up with the times?

Need help?  There is great power in the fresh eyes of a strategic outsider.  Finding someone you trust from outside your organization who can look at your strategy with no emotional attachment can provide a much more honest evaluation.  You can find out about my consulting and coaching services right here.

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

What To Do Before You Plan Another Church-Wide Campaign

As you might imagine, I talk with church leaders almost every day about church-wide campaigns.  Home runs and whiffs.  What worked and what didn’t work.  What was great and what was absolutely terrible.

If you’re planning a church-wide campaign (or even thinking about planning one), can I give you a short list of things to do first?

Hold an autopsy without blame of your last campaign.  Whatever else you do, don’t plan your next campaign without thoroughly evaluating your last campaign.  That makes it essential to evaluate how it went last time and then make changes in your strategy that reflect your learnings.  See also, Top 10 Reasons Church-Wide Campaigns Miss Their Mark.

Key to Remember:

Albert Einstein was right when he said “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.”

Carefully determine what you hope to accomplish with your next campaign.  This is a critical step.  Miss this step and you will almost always be the person that climbs the ladder to the top and then realizes it was leaning against the wrong wall.  What you hope to accomplish should determine the campaign you choose and how you prepare for it.

Some examples of what you hope to accomplish might be:

  • Unify your congregation
  • Connect as many unconnected members and attendees as possible
  • Help your congregation connect with their neighbors
  • Deepen the prayer lives of your congregation
  • Etc.

Key to Remember: It rarely works to choose more than one thing you’d like to accomplish.  Why?  The campaign you choose to unify your congregation or deepen the prayer lives of your congregation won’t be the topic that will appeal to the crowd or community.  See also, Three Keys to Connecting Beyond the Core and Committed and Your Church-Wide Campaign Topic Determines Two Huge Outcomes.

Commit to do the things that make a church-wide campaign a win.  If you choose to do a campaign, commit to doing your campaign the way that will accomplish what you hope to accomplish.

Key to Remember: Like any of the Apollo missions, just a degree or two off course took the rocket on an entirely different trajectory.  Have a destination you hope to reach?  Do the things that lead to a win.  See also, Build Crowd to Core Flow in Advance

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

The Latest on Church-Wide Campaigns (2014)

Saddleback released the 40 Days of Purpose church-wide campaign in 2002.  Although they had previously launched internal spiritual growth campaigns, this one really was a just-add-water option.  Of course, in 2002 it really was just about the only option.

Today, there are lots of options and there are more all the time.  I’ve reviewed many of them and cataloged them here for your convenience.  How to choose?  I’d highly recommend my article, “How to Choose the Right Church-Wide Campaign.”

The Nearly Complete List of Church-Wide Campaigns (as of 4/29/14)

Note: This list is alphabetical.  In most cases, I’ve linked to my own review of the campaign.

Small Group Ministry Myth #5: Only New Small Group Leaders Need a Coach

Note: This is part 5 of a 5 part series.  You can read part 1 right here.

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I love the Discovery Channel show MythBusters.  The show has a simple premise: The MythBusters team “proves and disproves urban legends and popular misconceptions using a signature style of explosive experimentation.”  The myths and misconceptions that get tested range from the absurd (can you herd cats?) to the profound (could Luke Skywalker really swing himself and Leia across a chasm with only his belt-rigged grappling hook). Very fun.

But you know…sometimes I run across a small group ministry myth that really needs to be busted.  You know what I’m talking about?

Here’s a look at the fifth small group ministry myth that needs busting (did you miss Myth #1?  You can find it right here):

Myth #4: Only new small group leaders need a “coach”.

Where are you on this one?  Maybe you’ve tried to build an effective coaching structure and you just haven’t figured out how to do it.  Maybe you’ve built a coaching team full of warm and willing people instead of hot and qualified.  Maybe you’ve adopted a coaching philosophy that limits the role of a coach to something that can be accomplished in the first 90 days.  See also, 5 Assumptions That Set Up Small Group Coaching to #FAIL.

Truth: This myth is based on an unfortunate misunderstanding about the purpose of a coach.

  • If you believe the role of a coach is mostly about providing best practices or tips on how to facilitate a better discussion or how to help your members plan to grow (or any of the other main skill-training topics)…then you’re actually correct.  Very few small group leaders need this kind of coaching beyond the first 90 days or so.
  • On the other hand, if you believe that “whatever you want to happen in the life of a member has to happen to the leader first,” you’ve already concluded that your leaders need someone who is doing to and for them whatever you want group members to experience.  See also, Life-Change at the Member Level.

True…many new leaders need help with technique in their first 90 days.  Beyond 90 days, every leader needs to be cared for and mentored by someone who is a few steps ahead.  How will that happen without a coaching structure?  Unless your small group ministry is unlikely to grow beyond 10 groups (the number of leaders YOU can care for), you’ll need to build in a plan to scale care (and discipleship) to mentor the leaders in your ministry…and that means a coaching structure of some kind.

Full Disclosure: One of the major issues with building an effective coaching structure is the practice of retroactively assigning coaches to existing leaders.  The truth is, existing leaders who have made it past the 90 day mark know that they don’t need help with technique.  If they figured out how to make it without a coach, why would they need one now?  Right?  That’s because they aren’t thinking about the role of a coach in the way I am (and hopefully you are).  What’s the fix?  It’s some version of a slow migration to a structure that is about care and mentoring.  See also, How to Implement Coaching for Existing Leaders.

Did you miss Small Group Ministry Myth #1?  You can read about it right here.

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Quotebook: When Change Efforts Fail

Have you tried more than once to introduce a new system or strategy to your ministry only to feel resistance?  In my pursuit of a better understanding of bringing change (which I end up doing a lot of) I’m reading The Change Monster by Jeannie Daniel Duck.

“When a stagnating company attempts one change effort after another, and repeatedly fails to achieve any lasting result, two damaging things occur: (1) management loses credibility and (2) the rest of the workforce becomes change-resistant.”  The Change Monster, p. 43

Would you say your team or your ministry is highly change-resistant?  You might benefit from The Change Monster.  The metaphor Duck uses throughout the book is outstanding and the strategies she introduces are very transferable to our business.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I may receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Small Group Ministry Myth #4: High Leader Entry Requirements Ensure Safety in the Flock

Note: This is part 4 of a 5 part series.  You can read part 1 right here.

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I love the Discovery Channel show MythBusters.  The show has a simple premise: The MythBusters team “proves and disproves urban legends and popular misconceptions using a signature style of explosive experimentation.”  The myths and misconceptions that get tested range from the absurd (can you herd cats?) to the profound (could Luke Skywalker really swing himself and Leia across a chasm with only his belt-rigged grappling hook). Very fun.

But you know…sometimes I run across a small group ministry myth that really needs to be busted.  You know what I’m talking about?

Here’s a look at the fourth small group ministry myth that needs busting (did you miss Myth #1?  You can find it right here):

Myth #4: High entry requirements for leaders ensures the safety of the flock and gives members a model to follow.

Where have you set the bar for small group leaders in your church?  What are the minimum standards a potential leader must meet before they can become a small group leader?  Do they need to:

  • have a background check?
  • have 3 references?
  • have an interview with a staff member?
  • be a member of a group before they can be a leader?
  • be apprenticed by a leader before they can become a leader?
  • be a member of your church?
  • be a tithing member of your church?
  • sign a leadership covenant?

Where have you set the bar for small group leaders?  And why have you set it there?

The most common reasons given for setting high entry requirements for small group leaders are that

  • it’s biblical (James 3:1 is often referenced)
  • it ensures the safety of the flock
  • it gives members a model to follow

Truth: High entry requirements don’t necessarily deliver on the safety of the flock.  The fact that someone is a member or even a tithing member may be an indication of higher commitment, but shouldn’t be seen as litmus credentials. Who hasn’t seen instances of a well disguised wolf in the middle of the sheepfold?  A model to follow?  Membership status has little or nothing to do with truly being a model to follow.  In many cases meeting higher entrance standards only guarantee an insider or member of the usual suspects.  See also, Leader Qualification: Raising the Bar, Lowering the Bar or Open Bar? and Do You Know About This Game-Changing Connection Secret?

On the flip side, unnecessarily high entry requirements do narrow the field in terms of who is allowed or encouraged to take an initial step toward leadership.  In addition, a very serious consequence of recruiting leaders from the core and committed segments of the congregation predetermines that new leaders have little awareness of anyone outside of the most connected.  See also, 5 Seriously Wrong Questions about Small Group Ministry and Three Keys to Connecting Beyond the Core and Committed.

Did you miss Small Group Ministry Myth #1?  You can read about it right here.

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.